Microsoft Office is worse for productivity than Candy Crush?

By Kitty Knowles 5 February 2018
Candy Crush bouncy castle Southbank: Bouncingham Palace is for adults only.

An economist explains what’s slowing you down at work.

Slack, Asana, Buffer.

These are just a few digital tools that help us discuss, plan and promote our work better.

With these aids, we pride ourselves of the ability to multitask – juggling many different skills each day.

But sometimes this ‘help’ simply isn’t helpful.

Our productivity growth that has long been around 1% a year, and has slipped into negative in the past decade, and we have to ask:

Are seemingly smart tricks slowing us down?

Outing Microsoft Office

“Microsoft Office is a bigger productivity drain than Candy Crush Saga,” says leading economist Tim Harford in a new blog post.

You might be shocked to compare King’s lurid sweet-themed smartphone game Candy Crush against your trusty Microsoft Office.

But the journalist who’s famous for his long-running Financial Times column, is right in his concerns.

He points to ‘the father of economics’ Adam Smith who argued that economic progress is built on the division of labour: the idea that in a pin factory “one man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points” to best make tens of thousand pins a day.

We know that when each employee has a specialist task, they can also become effective specialists, and use specialist machines.

A generation of generalists

Computers, and Microsoft Office, says Harford, are turning us into generalists: the vast majority without personal assistants must necessarily understand how to type for transport.

“Design a pretty graph, search the internet for cartoons for a presentation, use a price-comparison site to book some travel, craft an eloquent post on LinkedIn, and office life starts to look mildly entertaining — even if there isn’t much time left to do the jobs for which we’re paid.”

That’s before we even consider the ever- tempting clickholes of social media and the world wide web.

Seconds lost by the unskilled generalist add up over the day, at the detriment to everyone.

But do you really want to work in a pin factory?

Harford blames “pride” and “bad organisational design” for our age of lost hours.

We like to be good at lots of things, and we enjoy the diversity of our days. We also increasingly need to become ‘jacks of all trades’ as specialists are sacked in cost-cutting efforts.

The advance of technology, shouldn’t mean slower productivity – quite the opposite. But striking a balance between effective employment and fulfilling work could well become the challenge of the century.  

As Harford says: “A day full of distractions is rarely satisfying. On the other hand, I would not wish to spend each hour sharpening 5,000 pins.”